Even as she notes the country is experiencing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Walker County sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell believes the state of the county is better than good.
"When compared to the plight of other communities across this state and the nation, it is no exaggeration to say that the state of Walker County is great!" she said, opening her annual State of the County address during the monthly Chamber of Commerce meeting last week at the county's Civic Center in Rock Spring.
Heiskell pointed out matter-of-factly but with a sense of pride that the county's 7.5 percent unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the state and the entire country.
Speaking to a crowd of about 200, she highlighted recent expansion of the Roper Corp. workforce in LaFayette and at Nissin Brake and Findlex in Rock Spring.
"That the state of Walker County is strong and good is no accident," she said.
"When I took office 11 years ago, the county's finances were in shambles. Many creditors had us on a cash-only basis because we had not been paying our bills. We faced $5 million in obligations which exceeded our tax revenues. We had virtually no equipment in the road department, fire department or at the landfill."
The county now operates its own EMT/ambulance service, the county's fire insurance rating has improved from an ISO 6 to the point it will probably be awarded an ISO 3 this autumn, and a host of other services that had been either lacking or non-existent are now meeting needs.
"I hired the best business people I could find and turned them loose to do their jobs in an efficient business-like manner," Heiskell said. "We trained and cross-trained our employees to do most jobs that had previously been hired out to private contractors. Most importantly, we did not merely throw money at our problems, but wisely invested in the training, equipment and infrastructure necessary for Walker County's future.
"That future is now, and our wise investments of tax dollars are now paying dividends with the infrastructure and lifestyle amenities that make companies want to bring their families to Walker County and inspires the confidence in them to spend millions here to create jobs."
The commissioner said she and her staff are constantly working to improve the quality of life for all who live in Walker County, but the real heroes are the existing business owners and new entrepreneurs who are investing in the county, creating new jobs as well as retaining existing jobs.
"I want to thank the outstanding and dedicated group of employees who carry out your county's policies," Heiskell said. "Thank you to each industry and business that provides jobs to Walker County citizens. Thank God for blessing our county. And thank every citizen who volunteers and works hard to assure the state of Walker County remains great."